Top-of-the-table clashes look set to dominate matchday 3 of the 2013 AFC Champions League, with front-runners tackling their nearest challengers in five of the eights groups. Notably, K League champions FC Seoul entertain Vegalta Sendai, while compatriots Suwon Bluewings are in desperate need of an opening victory against runaway leaders Kashiwa Reysol.
Pakhtakor, meanwhile, travel to Lekhwiya aiming to maintain their perfect run, but fellow Tashkent giants Bunyodkor have a tough home game against undefeated Beijing Guoan. Join FIFA.com as we preview the action across the continent.
With reigning champions Ulsan Hyundai missing out on this year's campaign, many eyes are on last year's runners-up Al Ahli from Group C when they travel to Iran to take on two-time finalists Sepahan. One of only three teams to have stayed perfect so far, the Saudis are targeting a third straight win. The hosts are, however, keen to bounce back following an unexpected 3-1 loss at Al Gharafa.
It is, in a sense, a fast-developing rivalry, with the two sides having lined up against each other four times last year. They first met during the group phase, where the Iranians claimed four points over two legs. Al Ahli, though, avenged that in their quarter-final re-meetings, prevailing 4-1 on aggregate en route to the final.
Sepahan enter the re-match on the back of a penalty shoot-out victory over Esteghlal to reach the Hazfi Cup final. And they have gone four matches unbeaten in the league and remain in hunt for the title. Leading the attacking-line is Albanian Xhevahir Sukaj, who was twice on target as they routed Al Nasr 3-0 in the opener.
Al Ahli are not in their top form arriving at Isfahan, having lost to eighth-placed Al Raed 2-1 at home. To upstage the hosts they will look to the goal-scoring form of ace-striker Victor Simoes, as well as Omani international Amad Al Hosni, who grabbed a brace as they edged Al Nasr in the last outing.
Meanwhile, second-placed Al Gharafa travel to Al Nasr eyeing a second win. However, they should remain wary of the hosts' recent form, having defeated Bani Yas 2-0 to moving to fifth place in the local league table.
The other attractions
A 2-1 home victory against Al Taawun has given Group A’s Al Shabab a confidence boost heading into the home game against debutants Tractor Sazi. Sharing top place level on four points each, both sides know a victory can ensure pole position. In the other match, El Jaish welcome Al Jazira with both sides desperately needing an opening win.
Group B pace-setters Pakhtakor's form will be thoroughly tested at Lekhwiya, who most recently overpowered Al Arabi 4-1. Pointless Al Shabab Al Arabi, meanwhile, entertain Al Ettifaq all too aware that only three points can revitalise their hopes.
Group D's Al Hilal will look to the goal-scoring form of Yasser Al Qahtani to topple leaders Esteghlal at home. Having contributed to their 3-1 defeat of Al Rayyan with a brace, the former Saudi Arabia captain was again on target as they downed Al Ittihad 4-2. Al Ain, for their part, can count on the likes of Asamoah Gyan and Alex Brosque as they aim to bounce back against Al Rayyan.
Group E leaders FC Seoul must put their lacklustre domestic form behind them as they hope to consolidate top place with a home defeat of Vegalta Sendai. Undefeated with two opening draws, Buriram United challenge novices Jiangsu Sainty targeting an away victory.
Group F front-runners Guangzhou Evergrande's hopes of a second win against Muang Thong United at home are bolstered by the return of Lucas Barrios, who missed the 1-1 draw at Jeonbuk Motors due to injury. In the other group match, Urawa Red Diamonds welcome Jeonbuk hoping to continue their recent winning form.
Group G's joint leaders do battle as two-time semi-finalists Bunyodkor welcoming Beijing. The Chinese visitors may be content with a draw as coach Aleksandar Stanojevic has opted to rest captain Xu Yunlong and Frederic Kanoute. It is, though, a game bottom side Sanfrecce Hiroshima can't afford to lose against Pohang Steelers.
In-form Kashiwa Reysol of Group H face up to hosts Suwon Bluewings seeking their third straight win, but the home side's recent form cannot be underestimated, having overcome Jeonbuk. The same can be said of Central Coast Mariners, who welcome Guizhou Renhe on the back of a home defeat of Melbourne Heart.
Player to watch
Despite FC Seoul struggling in the K League this season, their Montenegrin marksman Dejan Damjanovic has again stood out with his brilliant goal-scoring form, netting a brace in their opening 5-1 drubbing of Jiangsu, before again being on target in their 2-2 draw with Gyeongnam on Saturday.
11 - Aside from their eye-catching star imports, Guangzhou boast as many as 11 Chinese internationals, although midfielder Huang Bowen and Zhang Linpeng are missing this week through suspension.
What they said
"We have great fans and a big victory (against Hiroshima) and we are working step by step. We're not expecting too much and we have no pressure this season," Beijing Guoan coach Aleksandar Stanojevic
2013 AFC Champions League matchday 3 fixtures
2 & 3 April
Group A: El Jaish-Al Jazira, Al Shabab-Tractor Sazi
Group B: Al Shabab Al Arabi-Al Ettifaq, Lekhwiya-Pakhtakor
Group C: Sepahan-Al Ahli, Al Nasr-Al Gharafa
Group D: Al Hilal-Esteghlal, Al Ain-Al Rayyan
Group E: FC Seoul-Vegalta Sendai, Jiangsu Sainty-Buriram United
Group F: Guangzhou Evergrande-Muang Thong United, Urawa Red Diamonds-Jeonbuk Motors
Group G: Sanfrecce Hiroshima-Pohang Steelers, Bunyodkor-Beijing Guoan
Group H: Central Coast Mariners-Guizhou Renhe, Suwon Bluewings-Kashiwa Reysol